• Chris Wilkinson

Incredible Nadal marches towards greatness

Chris Wilkinson June 11, 2013
© AP

Rafael Nadal's achievement in winning an eighth French Open title cannot be underplayed. It is incredible what he has done after being out for seven months on account of injury. He did struggle early on in Paris, his timing looked off and he did not appear comfortable, but he just got better and better - which is what you want to do in a grand slam. The big thing with Paris in the spring is that the conditions change so much from day to day. The first week was wet and cold, we had some hot days in the second week but the final was cold. So he had to contend with all that and did it better than anyone else.

What I would like to highlight is what an amazing competitor Rafa is. The semi-final with Novak Djokovic, which we all know should have been the final, was a stunning advert for the game. It was the match everyone wanted to see and it lived up to the billing as arguably the top two players in the world slugged it out over five sets. For me, it looked like Djokovic was going to win. I wrote in previous columns that Djokovic has the right game plan to beat Rafa, but Rafa's competitive juices took him over the line. His movement in that semi-final was incredible given he had been out of the game for so long. His defensive skills, getting that one more ball back into court as he does, it was just incredible. The semi-final was Rafa's first five-set match since losing to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon, so to do that after seven months shows his physical as well as mental strengths.

His victory in the final gave him a record eighth French Open title, but that's not the only record as he is now the only player to have won three tournaments - Paris, Monte Carlo and Barcelona - eight times. If you needed any statistics to back up his billing as the King of Clay that is one. He is simply the best player ever to step on a clay court.

The anomaly of the rankings means Rafa actually drops down one place to five, but from here on in for the next seven months Djokovic, Andy Murray and co had better start looking over their shoulders. Everything Rafa does now is gain, gain, gain. He has no points to defend until the start of next year, whereas Djokovic has some 6000 points to defend. Every match Rafa wins now he will close the gap and it's highly likely that by the autumn, if he stays fit, he will be No. 1 again. There's Wimbledon, the Masters events with lots of points available and the US Open, and Rafa will be picking up points galore. It's just an amazing comeback.

It's worth giving a mention to David Ferrer, who is the forgotten man on account of Rafa's achievements. It was good for him and making his first grand slam final does highlight the depth in the Spanish ranks. There are 13 guys in the top 100 in Spain, which is the highest ratio of any country in the top 100.

Federer facing uphill fight

Roger Federer made another quarter-final, but was no match for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Questions have been asked about whether his powers are on the wane. There's no doubt they are, but he is heading into his part of the year on the grass. In the French, Federer did not really play anyone of note until the quarters. For him it will be a struggle to make the next step against the top guys, but on grass he has a better chance. The thing to say is that the players are not scared of Roger anymore. That air of invincibility has disappeared.

Andy Murray skipped the French Open on account of injury, but is back in action at Queen's and this is a big week in terms of his fitness. Time will tell how he is, but if he can have a good run at Queen's it will give him match action under his belt. He got on grass early, the first week of the French he was practicing on grass, and that is a plus as he is ahead of a lot of players in terms of preparation.

Rankings worry for Wimbledon?

We had the rankings problem at the French which resulted in Rafa and Novak meeting in the semi-finals and the same headache will be forced on the Wimbledon committee. Rafa is down to five now and he's not playing again before Wimbledon, so he will not move up. That is a problem as I think Wimbledon should seed him in the top four. At the French, Nadal and Djokovic should have been the final but the seedings left them meeting in the semi-finals. The grand slams have the right to alter the seedings and I think they should.

24 hours before Rafa, we had Serena Williams blowing Maria Sharapova off court. She is playing a different game to the other ladies. She has the power, but it is also the presence. She walks on court and the others are petrified. The semi-final with Sara Errani saw Serena spend 45 minutes on court, in which she smashed CC winners. It is tennis on a different level. If you compare the 45 minutes of that semi-final with the near five hours of the Rafa-Novak semi-final, a poll of fans would rank the men's semi ahead of the ladies'. Serena's achievements are stunning, 16 grand slam victories, but the women's game is in desperate need of someone to step up and challenge her.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.